Thursday, July 28, 2011
Plunder of the Sun (1953)
I love movies that have a film noir feel but combine that with exotic locations. If they’re vaguely tropical locations even better. And if they feature actual location shooting in those exotic locations, better still. Plunder of the Sun ticks all those boxes.
Glenn Ford is Al Colby, a somewhat mysterious American who accepts what seems like a fairly simple job. He is employed by antiquarian Thomas Berrien (Francis L. Sullivan) to carry a package from one Central American country to another. The job is unlikely to be strictly legal, but then we get the feeling that Al Colby isn’t overly bothered by such details. On the other hand he’s not an out-and-out crook. He makes it clear he won’t be involved in smuggling drugs. When he’s assured that the package is merely a manuscript, a manuscript of great archaeological significance (which is why its export is not exactly legal), he’s happy enough to oblige. The fact that he’s more or less penniless and is going to be well paid helps to relieve any pangs of conscience.
Colby is a pretty stubborn guy though and he’s not inclined to back down, plus he’s getting a dose of gold fever. Because that’s what it’s about - the manuscript is the key to a fabulous treasure of gold and silver from the ancient Zapotec civilisation of Mexico.
Colby eventually finds himself as an unwilling partner of the even more unscrupulous Jefferson. Jefferson is involved in the antiquities trade as well but in truth he’s an out-and-out crook. And Jefferson has a really bad case of gold fever and has no intention of sharing the treasure with anyone.
There’s no problem with simplifying a complex plot and stripping it down to make it merely an exciting adventure yarn but Latimer has done it in a very untidy way. He’s ended up with several characters who no longer serve any purpose in the narrative but they’re still there and now they only serve as entirely unnecessary and confusing distractions. They wander in and out of the movie but have no connection with the main characters or with the plot.
The movie’s other strength is the acting. Glenn Ford is what I’d call a minimalist actor. Most of the time you don’t even notice his acting, and it’s a style of acting that works very well in film noir. He also adds a dark edge to Al Colby which helps to compensate for the deficiencies of the screenplay. If Francis L. Sullivan as Berrien is the poor man’s Sidney Greenstreet then Diana Lynn as Julie is definitely the poor man’s Gloria Grahame. She’s good, but it’s unfortunate for her that Julie is one of the orphan characters who played an important role in the novel but serve no purpose in the movie. Sean McClory makes a splendid villain with his bleached blonde hair and bad attitude.
The Region 4 DVD comes, rather surprisingly, packed with extras. One of the most interesting features an archaeologist who relates the real Zapotec civilisation and the ancient sites featured in the movie to the movie itself. A clever and imaginative extra. It’s also a superb transfer.
Despite its flaws this is a very entertaining and visually impressive movie. Recommended.